When you book your first cruise, you're expecting to have a relaxing and exciting vacation. You're looking forward to great ocean sunsets, participating in lots of activities onboard, dining well, feeling pampered and making discoveries at ports of call.
What we experienced on a recent cruise aboard Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess was everything we dreamed of – and more. Caribbean Princess is one of a handful of ships in the fleet to be designated as MedallionClass along with Regal Princess, Royal Princess, Crown Princess, and the all-new Sky Princess, which launched in October, 2019.
What is MedallionClass? It's an entirely innovative cruise experience powered by the OceanMedallion wearable device, developed by Princess Cruises parent Company Carnival Corporation. The quarter-sized Medallion can be worn in a lanyard, sportsband, clip, bracelet or pendant and activates a number of user-friendly experiences to deliver an extraordinary cruise vacation. It connects to an invisible but powerful Internet of Things network, consisting of 4,000 sensors, 72 miles of cable, 650 readers, 500 edge computing devices and more than 4,000 interactive portals on MedallionClass ships.
Throughout your cruise these sensors recognize guests via their Medallions in locations throughout the ship and supply helpful insights to crew in those areas so they can provide better service to those guests. Even as I boarded the ship at Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades, I was greeted by name, doors started opening and I felt like a VIP.
On a MedallionClass ship you feel throughout your cruise vacation as if there is not only an extraordinary human touch but an invisible behind-the-scenes team rooting you on.
We share our three experiences – and also dish on many more aspects of a MedallionClass cruise that bring an extra “special quality” to your first-ever cruise.
It's at Your Fingertips
OceanNow is an amazingly functional experience: It lets you order drinks, food, retail goods and service from your smart device, or from your cabin TV and have those items delivered directly to you anywhere around the ship, including your cabin.
Say you are on your private balcony and deep into a mystery novel and have a sudden craving for a rum and coke. Make a couple of taps using OceanNow within the MedallionClass app and a smiling server will arrive with your refreshment.
Other features? Say you’re poolside and find you’re out of sunscreen. You can order sundries– like a new bottle of suntan lotion or Aloe – and have it delivered to you right to your deck chair. A host of other retails items can be ordered as well.
Small Ship Service on an Amenity-Filled Ship
Another fantastic aspect of OceanMedallion may be less visible to first-time cruisers, but the fact is the technology improves customer service -- already a strong point on Princess Cruises -- in other ways. There's no need for introductions: The crew already knows your name and where you are from. And as the system gets to know you and your habits onboard, it remembers your preferences, such as whether you like your bourbon straight up or on the rocks.
Waiters, equipped with their own handheld devices, will know if you have any food allergies or aversions. They also know if you are celebrating a special event, such as a birthday or anniversary, and can plan surprises accordingly. Bartenders can skip the preliminaries and go right to the chatting and joke-telling.
MedallionNet Provides Fast -- Maybe the Fastest -- Wi-Fi at Sea
For new and experienced cruisers alike, one of the most applauded benefits of OceanMedallion cruising is MedallionNet, the fastest internet you're likely to encounter at sea. It's reasonably priced from $9.99 per day if purchased for a week of unlimited use. The speed and reliability was all the buzz on Caribbean Princess.
With MedallionNet, you can check your email, post photos and videos on social media and FaceTime with the folks back home. You can watch entire sports events and stream Netflix movies on your phone or tablet.
Access is available on land, too, at Princess Cruises' beautiful private beach, Princess Cays, on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. There, you can sit in your lounge chair, enjoy a cold beer and watch the big game.
Even some ships that aren't yet outfitted with the OceanMedallion technology have already been upgraded to MedallionNet Wi-Fi. These include Coral Princess, Island Princess, Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess; Golden Princess will see upgraded Wi-Fi starting Dec. 20.
These may be our favorites, but there's lots to love about more MedallionClass initiatives:
A Gift in the Mail
The OceanMedallion experience starts when you fill out your pre-cruise paperwork on Princess' Cruise Personalizer website, just as you would for any Princess cruise. Then, preparation takes a different turn when you're booked on a MedallionClass voyage. First, you download an app called OceanReady. You snap your own photo (don't forget to smile!) and type in your passport information. Your boarding pass appears right on your smartphone -- no need to waste paper printing it out. Assuming you take care of everything at least a month before your cruise, you can order personalized medallions delivered to your home (otherwise, you'll receive them at the pier).
Your medallion arrives via special delivery in a fancy box that looks like it contains a Swiss watch or something valuable. And the OceanMedallion does feel special; it's a kick to open the box and see your name, ship and sailing date engraved on the disc. Included is a case that attaches to a provided lanyard -- not unlike what your gym teacher wore but without the annoying whistle.
Fashionistas will want to check out other wearable options once they arrive on the ship. At the OceanWaterfront shop, you can purchase fashionable accessories, such as a necklace, clip or bracelet, to hold your disc. Or, you can just slip your OceanMedallion in your pocket and forget all about it.
Check-In Is a Breeze
Check-in is OceanMedallion's first great innovation: It's able to transmit your essential embarkation information, from photo ID to passport details, to check-in personnel. Our Caribbean Princess trip check-in was easy and expedited.
And here's what we also loved: Because basic OceanMedallion info transmits to crew, from cabin stewards to bartenders to wait staff, walking onboard feels like you are entering your favorite bar, club or restaurant, with greetings accordingly. It's akin to shouts of "Norm!" on the old "Cheers" television show, though a little more low key.
Forget About Keycards
Cruise ships operate as cashless societies, and typically you'll use a plastic keycard, the size of a credit card, for getting on and off the ship, unlocking your cabin door and making purchases at bars, casino, spa and restaurants. You don't need that on a MedallionClass voyage because OceanMedallion handles that function.
The medallion can't be demagnetized and is water- and sand-resistant as well. And most of the time, you don't even need to show it. If you buy a drink, a souvenir or a scoop of gelato on the ship, your transaction will be wirelessly recorded -- though sometimes you may be asked to tap your medallion against a reader.
Ease of Navigation
While big ships can seem vast at first glance -- just looking up at the towering Piazza atrium on Caribbean Princess may make your jaw drop -- there is no need to grab a deck plan to find your way around. You can get directions right on your phone with an app called OceanCompass, which pinpoints where you are on the ship. With a GPS-like function, it directs you where you want to go.
If you prefer not to use your phone, you can tap on any of the more than 100 large touch-screen portals around the ship for personalized directions. The portals are located in areas including elevator lobbies. If you need an accessible route, OceanCompass and the portals will have stored that information and direct you accordingly.
On the portals you'll also find easily searchable listings of activities happening around the ship. You can use your finger to flip through events happening day and night, whether you are interested in a seminar on secrets to achieving a flatter stomach, a pickleball competition or a wine-tasting session with a sommelier. The activities are also accessible on your cellphone. In this way, technology provides an alternative to the printed Princess Patter newsletter that arrives daily in your cabin.
Streamlined Cruise Rituals
When your ship visits ports of call, OceanMedallion helps ship officials keep track of who is on shore and who is not and streamlines the process of getting on and off the ship -- security personnel just have you tap your medallion at the gangway.
Your Own Personal Avatar
Any trepidation you might have about going on a cruise ship where you don't know anybody is eased by a super fun aspect of the new technology. Everybody onboard, adults and kids alike, is able to create their own cruise companion, an avatar, otherwise known as an animated tagalong. It pops up on the ship's portals when you pass by or tap your OceanMedallion on the portals' readers.
You can choose a starfish, turtle or fish, and add colors, stripes and other designs and even tattoo-like charms to express your mood of the day or highlight aspects of your personality, such as that you're an adventurer or a gourmand.
Cabin Service Enhancements
One of the perks of cruises is that you have a cabin steward who refreshes your cabin twice a day, removing used towels, fluffing up your pillows, making fanciful towel animals and leaving chocolates on your pillow. One of the challenges, for both your steward and yourself, is that it's often hard to keep track of whether passengers are inside or have left the cabin.
With information from your OceanMedallion beamed to their handheld devices, cabin stewards know whether you are in or out, and as a result can provide pampering and surprises faster and less intrusively. You shouldn't have that annoying knock on your door just when you are trying to catch some shut-eye.
Where Is Everyone?
Passengers on Caribbean Princess were equally impressed by an innovative function on the OceanCompass app that gives you the ability to track the whereabouts of family and friends. Accessible on your smart device or on the portals, the technology pinpoints both where your shipmates are and how to get there. If it's a fun and convenient feature for just about anyone; it was particularly popular with families, whose parents wanted to keep track of the kids without a hassle.
It's important to note that you must agree to participate in order to be part of the OceanCompass. The app also includes a chat function, so groups could decide where to meet up.
Unique functions with OceanMedallion include the option of downloading an PlayOcean app that lets you play trivia and other games against fellow cruisers. Confession here: I was obsessed with the trivia and played every day, landing a top spot in the weeklong competition -- no prizes, but seeing my name atop the list was kind of like seeing my name in lights.
OceanCasino is for those who want to play with real money and includes fun versions of slots, poker and bingo that you can play anywhere on the ship, even in bed.
The portals also have games, which are a fun distraction for adults and kids alike. While waiting for an elevator or for your friends to arrive, you might do a word scramble or a jigsaw puzzle. The system is so smart it will remember your game if you don't finish -- so the next time you tap your Medallion, your game will pick up where you left off.
A family-friendly scavenger hunt and an adult pub crawl, where you imbibe as you visit various bars, both make use of OceanMedallion technology to enhance the experience. Your clues or cues, as the case may be, come electronically.
See It, Experience It
With OceanView, you can watch Carnival Corporation's Ocean Original television series. These travel shows, which also appear on network television, enable you to watch programming about St. Thomas -- just before your ship calls there. You can watch on your mobile device and your in-cabin television.
Among the shows available onboard include "Ocean Treks with Jeff Corwin," "Vacation Creation" with Tommy Davidson and Andrea Feczko, and "The Voyager with Josh Garcia."
As OceanMedallion matures, it will gain additional functions. Passengers will, for instance, be able to check menus at the ship's various restaurants and touch their phone screens or the ship's portals to make reservations. When you get to the topflight Crown Grill steakhouse (a bargain at $29 per person), don't be surprised if the servers already know you like your steak medium-rare.
Fran Golden has visited many destinations around the world, warm and cold, writing about cruises for publications including Porthole, Virtuoso Life, Condé Nast Traveler and Cruise Business Review. She's also the co-author of Frommer's Easy Guide to Alaska Cruises and Ports of Call and Frommer's EasyGuide to River Cruising.
Curious to learn more about MedallionClass cruising on Princess Cruises? Check out Cruise Critic's latest feature and video releases:
Interested in experiencing MedallionClass cruising on Princess? Currently, Caribbean Princess, Royal Princess, Crown Princess and Regal Princess are offering OceanMedallion. Sky Princess, the line’s newest vessel, was MedallionClass equipped upon its debut in 2019. In 2020, additions will include Ruby Princess (January 27), Grand Princess (March 29), Enchanted Princess (June 15), Emerald Princess (August 16), Coral Princess (October 16) and Island Princess (December 20).